Ketanji Brown Jackson marked a milestone in American representation on Thursday when she was sworn in as the first black woman in history to serve on the nation’s highest court – officially taking on the title of judge.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in a brief Supreme Court ceremony, swore the Constitutional Oath to Jackson, and retired Justice Stephen Breyer, who Jackson served about 20 years ago, had the judicial oath.
Her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, held two Bibles – a family Bible and the Harlan Bible, a King James Bible given to the Supreme Court in 1906 – as Jackson smiled broadly and finished repeating the oaths.
“On behalf of all members of the court, I am delighted to welcome Judge Jackson to the court and to our joint appeal,” Roberts said as the other seven sitting judges in attendance clapped as Jackson beamed.
Breyer shook her hand and whispered “Congratulations” before patting her on the back.
“With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and to administer justice without fear or favor, so help me God,” Jackson said in a written statement. “I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great Nation.”
She thanked her new colleagues “for their warm and gracious welcome” and said she was “particularly grateful for the time and attention given to me by the Chief Justice and Justice Breyer.”
“Judge Breyer has been a personal friend of mine and mentor for the past two decades, in addition to being part of today’s official act,” she wrote. “In the wake of his exemplary service, with the support of my family and friends, and ever mindful of the duty to promote the rule of law, I am well positioned to serve the American people.
Breyer, in his own statement, said he was “happy today” – for “Ketanji”, “for my fellow judges” and “for America”.
“His hard work, integrity and intelligence have earned him a place on this Court,” he said. “They gain an empathetic, thoughtful, and collegial colleague … Ketanji will interpret the law with wisdom and fairness, helping this law work better for the American people, whom it serves.”
Roberts said at the ceremony that there would be a formal inauguration in the fall, but Thursday’s oaths will allow Jackson to assume office, “and she looks forward to getting there without further delay.”
Jackson told the White House after his confirmation by the Senate, “It took 232 years and 115 previous appointments, but we got there.”
“And our kids tell me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible,” she said.
Her entry into the court also makes it the first time that four women will sit on the high court bench at the same time.
President Joe Biden announced in January that Breyer would retire at the end of his term after 27 years in the field, granting the wishes of wary progressives to wait and setting off what would become a month-long process to nominate Jackson and another 42 days. for his confirmation.
Three Republicans eventually joined Senate Democrats in confirming her, marking a significant political victory for Biden’s long-term legacy — and his short-term efforts to energize Democrats.
Biden said when considering candidates he was looking for someone with Breyer’s judicial philosophy and “a pragmatic understanding that the law should work for the American people.” And with Jackson’s nomination, he delivered on a key 2020 election campaign promise, ahead of the all-important South Carolina primary, that he would nominate the first black woman on the court.
“It’s going to let so much sun shine on so many young women, so many young black women,” Biden said in April, alongside Jackson and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and first black vice president in the country. “We are going to look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history.”
Jackson, 51, born in Washington DC, comes from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the most important federal court after the Supreme Court. She has more than eight years of experience in the federal judiciary, following a judicial path followed by many candidates before her.
Like other associate justices, she graduated from Harvard Law School, but she made history in multiple ways, as the first former public defender and first Florida-raised justice to serve on the Supreme Court. She will also be the first judge since Thurgood Marshall to have criminal defense experience.
When asked what her message would be to young Americans during her Senate confirmations, she reminded the Senate Judiciary Committee that she felt out of place at Harvard during her first semester — when a stranger has taught a remarkable lesson in resilience.
“I was walking in the yard at night and a black woman I didn’t know passed me on the sidewalk, and she looked at me, and I guess she knew how I felt. And she leaned in while we were going through and said, ‘Keep going,’ Jackson said, “I would tell them to keep going.”
She also spoke fondly of her descent from slavery and her parents who grew up in Jim Crow South.
“In my family, it only took a generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Jackson said at the White House after his confirmation. “And it is an honour, the honor of a lifetime, for me to have this chance to join the Court, to promote the rule of law at the highest level and to do my part to carry out our project. common democracy and equal justice under the law into the future.”
His two daughters, Talia, 21, and Leila, 17, were also present for the brief but historic swearing-in.
ABC News Washington senior reporter Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.